By midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, when SLO City Council members finally brought up a measure to toughen penalties for party hosts, the irony of cracking down on drinking and partying on what is practically a national holiday dedicated to drinking and partying appeared lost.
The change would increase fines levied against the hosts of parties where minors are present and make it easier to issue citations against them.
The current so-called “social host ordinance” was developed in 2001 to curb underage drinking, particularly among students at college parties. But police have not been able to enforce it, according to a staff report, because the burden of proof is too high. As the ordinance stands, police responding to a party have to prove that at least five minors (under 21) are at a party and that three of them are drinking or in possession of alcohol. Breaking the ordinance was considered an infraction, a minor violation, and the fine associated with that version of the ordinance was $100 to the host.
Council members will vote March 31 to change the ordinance to make the violation a misdemeanor, a criminal charge, and the corresponding fine will likely be $350 for the first offense, increasing up to $1,000 for three or more violations within a 12-month period. In addition to the increased punishment, the threshold for a violation could be significantly lowered; under the amended ordinance a party host could be charged with violating the ordinance if as few as three minors are attending a party and just one of them possesses or consumes alcohol.
Of the four audience members attending, one woman cheered when the council made the decision.